The conventional wisdom is that people who start out camping in tents will eventually find their way to an RV. If so, there is good news for the RV industry. The number of visitors camping in tents at National Park Service sites rose more than 6 percent in 2009, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
The increase in tent camping is not surprising, since there is a theory that people choose that kind of vacation in a recession because it’s cheap. That may be true, but it belittles the tent camping experience.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first slept in a tent, but I was young enough to think that camping in my suburban backyard in Southern California was a great idea. I still thought it was a lot of fun as I got to the eighth grade and camped overnight with friends in the San Gabriel Canyon. And I loved the vacation trips we took as a family, camping beside lakes and streams.
Tent camping had its problems. I recall one memorable trip while I was in high school and our camping party arrived at Yosemite very late at night. My future brother-in-law and I were charged with setting up a big, borrowed tent, and we had a lot of trouble figuring out what to do, trying to read the instructions with our flashlights, clanking our tools, and stumbling over this and that. The suspicion that we were annoying our neighbors was confirmed when we awoke early the next morning to hear someone loudly singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” just outside our tent.
Then there was the time in my 20s when a friend and I drove up to Lee Vining to fish in one of the High Sierra lakes and in my haste I forgot to bring along my sleeping bag. Even protected by a tent, I learned, the ground can get very cold.
Camping under the stars or in a tent is about as close to nature as you can get, but its appeal begins to fade with age. You can’t dial a more comfortable sleep number when your bed is the hard ground.
That’s the reason I have to go back almost to my childhood to recall the tent camping experience, but not every one of my advanced age is tied to creature comforts. Sharlene Minshall, the author of our Silver, Single and Solo column, is a veteran RVer, but she made a trip across country last year as a tent camper, and survived quite well. For those who have followed her adventures in her columns, books and blog at rvlife.com, it was not astonishing that Sharlene, now past 70, would travel solo and camp in a tent along the way, but only that she elected to travel by Chevy instead of on a Harley.
Still, as most of us get older, we want to have both comfort and the nature experience, and that’s where RVing finds its place. You can have anything from a popup tent trailer that is just a step up from tent camping to a million dollar motor coach that has all the comforts of home.
Next to Nature
The last big idea from luxury motorhome builder Country Coach before it went out of business was a motorhome with a veranda. You could slide the veranda out of the side of the coach, and then sit there, enjoying nature without touching dirt. Some ridiculed the concept as needless excess, and it was certainly as far from tent camping as you could get and still be in a campground.
Luxury resorts in tropical places such as Hawaii and Bali employ a similar concept with open-air rooms that merge indoor and outdoor living. You don’t just have a patio or deck; you have a room that is partly indoors and partly outside. The Resort at Isla Palenque in Panama is designing a hotel and homes with this open-air concept. As the developer says in a press release, “We’re making it hard for residents to recognize when they have left their homes and entered the outdoors.”
But have you really entered the outdoors if you are still walking on a tile floor?
I like to gaze at the ocean from a balcony, but it’s no substitute for walking on the sand. Golf and tennis on the Wii console may be amazing fun, but they are not the real thing. For that, you truly need to be outdoors. Of course, you don’t have to choose between the real and the virtual experience; you can have both. And you can have both the comforts of home and the pleasures of the outdoors with an RV.
There are lots of RVing options available these days for anyone ready to graduate from tent camping to something more convenient. You can get RVs with just about any amenity you want, including an outdoor kitchen so you don’t even have to go inside to cook a meal or get a snack. For an example of an outdoor kitchen that slides out of the back of a travel trailer, see our Product Spotlight on Page 30. And for lots of other choices, check the ads in this month’s RV Life or visit one of the RV shows listed in this month’s Calendar section.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.